Federal authorities accused two upstate New York men on Wednesday of conspiring to provide support to terrorists. The strange part of the case? Scientists deemed the plot, “the stuff of comic books.”
Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, of Galway, and Eric J. Feight, 54, of Hudson, were trying to assemble an X-ray weapon to target opponents of Israel. Authorities say they wanted to attach a remote-control switch to a van-mounted, industrial X-ray machine and secretly radiate people who would sicken or die days later.
Radiation safety experts at the University of Rochester and the University of New Mexico are more than a little skeptical about the plan. They identified many logistical problems with the plot. Any device that could produce that much electricity would probably crush most vans, and targets would have to remain still for long periods of time at close range.
Dr. Frederic Mis, radiation safety officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center, read the criminal complaint describing the plan and labeled it unfeasible. “There is no instant death ray,” he said, adding that the most interesting question the court will face is how to judge a case where the plan would never have worked.
At a brief hearing Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Christian Hummel ordered Crawford and Feight held without bail until a preliminary hearing in July, saying they posed a threat to public safety. Defense lawyers argued the two men should get bail because they were not a threat.
Police arrested Crawford this week immediately after he attached Feight’s remote control device to the inoperable X-ray machine provided by undercover FBI agents. Crawford turned the X-ray machine on, but for his own safety didn’t flip the switch to emit radiation, prosecutors said. The evening and morning before that, Crawford showed the agents two intended targets, an Albany mosque and an Islamic center in Schenectady.
Radiation can cause skin damage, but Mis said that takes long, close exposure. The real concern, he said, was that the men would accidentally hurt themselves, or someone else.
Authorities said the investigation began in April 2012 after they received information that Crawford had approached local Jewish organizations to help fund a weapon to use against enemies of Israel. Crawford, an industrial mechanic for General Electric in Schenectady, knew Feight, an outside GE contractor with engineering skills, through work, they said.